The University of Oxford is investigating allegations that the thesis proposal of Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, a doctoral student who is a son of a former president of Iran, was written with outside help, The Guardian reported. Rafsanjani denies the allegations and says that he is being smeared. The inquiry is particularly sensitive because of recent questions about the legitimacy of a Ph.D. awarded by the London School of Economics and Political Science to a son of Muammar el-Qaddafi.
Higher Education Quick Takes
Many states and state universities have been citing the rising cost of retiree health benefits as a key financial challenge. A Boston Globe analysis suggests that the problem may be equally significant at leading private universities. Last year, for the first time, Harvard University's liability for retiree medical benefits ($812 million) exceeded its pension liability ($763 million). While universities are required to set aside funds for pensions, they are not required to do so for medical benefit liabilities for retirees, and some institutions face significant gaps. Yale University, the Globe reported, has set aside $700 million for its $1.1 billion pension liability. But the university has set aside only $274 million for its $820 million retiree medical benefit liability.
Tik Root, a Middlebury College junior studying at Damascus University, is missing, and his father said that Syrian officials have confirmed that he is in custody. Middlebury has posted statements from Root's father and from the college's president. Middlebury students have also created a Facebook group to encourage people to push for Root's release. Root's father believes he was watching the protests and was detained along with other observers.
Michigan's universities increased spending on administrative positions by an average of 30 percent in the last five years, with the number of administrative jobs up by 19 percent, The Detroit Free Press reported. Both state enrollment levels and state support were relatively constant during that period, and faculty salaries increased by an average of 22 percent, the newspaper found. University officials noted that even if enrollment is flat, credit hours are up, showing the need for more personnel.
Peking University's plans to expand a program of consultations with different groups of students is worrying some students and human rights advocates, China Daily reported. The university said the program would focus on reaching out to students who are facing academic difficulty. But the university is also planning sessions with "troublesome students," including those with "radical thoughts" that include criticizing the administration. "No universities or schools have the right to deprive students of the freedom to think or speak," said Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the Beijing-based 21st Century Education Research Institute. "The university is somewhere to cultivate people's independent personalities and thinking, so it's totally wrong for Peking University to intervene in students' freedom to express their different opinions," Xiong said.
New York University late Sunday announced plans to launch a full campus -- described as "a comprehensive research university with a liberal arts and science college" -- in Shanghai. The campus will be the first American university with full, independent authority in China -- a legal status approved by the Ministry of Education. Following the creation of a similar outpost in Abu Dhabi, the new campus is part of NYU's idea of becoming a "global network university." The admissions system for the Shanghai campus will be the first in China to include a range of factors beyond the country's national college admissions test. NYU expects to enroll the first students in the fall of 2013, with half of the students coming from China and half from the rest of the world.
Lecturers at the University of Washington Extension program, which offers a range of English instruction, have voted to unionize. The new bargaining unit will be affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.
Colleges and universities that are highly prestigious tend to have high yields (the percentage of accepted applicants who enroll). But U.S. News & World Report has just published an analysis suggesting that, for law schools, the institutions with the 10 highest yield rates include institutions that are identified by the magazine as the 42nd, 71st, 79th and 140th best law schools, and four that aren't ranked. The data suggest that mission may matter more than typical measures of prestige. Three of the law schools with highest yields are affiliated with religious colleges (Brigham Young, Liberty and Regent Universities). Two others are historically black institutions (Southern and North Carolina Central Universities). The others are the flagship universities in Oklahoma and New Mexico, Harvard and Yale Universities and the University of Memphis.
Ralph Nader has a new target: athletic scholarships. Nader is planning to seek support for the campaign from college presidents, Congress and the Education Department, the Associated Press reported. "As we near the exciting conclusion of 'March Madness' — which would more accurately be described as the 2011 NCAA Professional Basketball Championships — it's time we step back and finally address the myth of amateurism surrounding big-time college football and basketball in this country," said Nader. A spokesman for the National Collegiate Athletic Association told the AP that it was unfair for Nader to call college athletes professionals. "They are students, just like any other student on campus who receives a merit-based scholarship," he said.